There was supposed to be five of us but Joe Zambie cancelled so it was just four: Bruce, Johnny, me, and I forget who the fourth guy was. Sue was our waitress, as usual. Johnny ordered tea and crepes, as usual. And the bullshit began to flow like four kinds of syrup on Bruce’s turkey sausage. Also as usual.
Here’s how it went that day:
Bruce: Zambie says he can’t come because he doesn’t have a car. That’s just Zambie, of course he has a car (Bruce cackles and rolls his fists around each other and raises his hands in the air, in the Zambi/Zambie salute).
Johnny: He has a cat that has cancer. He loves this cat so much. Zambie drives the cat up to the veterinarian school in North Carolina every Monday to get cancer treatment. Seven hours there, seven hours back.
After an agreeable nodding of the heads by the cat lovers among us, the conversation turned, eventually, to Bruce’s ranking of the best all-time guitarists. He said that he and Oteil Burbridge had been talking about it and they’d come up with a list.
Johnny: Where is Tal Farlow on your list?
Bruce: He’s 42nd?
Johnny, who played in Tal Farlow’s trio, called bullshit on that.
Bruce: No. 1, with a doubt, Django Reinhardt. He invented it! Then B.B. King, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, Ralph Towner. He’s Beethoven. Ralph is the king. ARU [the Aquarium Rescue Unit, the best band many people have ever seen] had one bad gig. We were playing in Washington, D.C., at Blues Alley, and we saw Ralph Towner play and then we couldn’t play. He dismantled us. We just sat there while he destroyed us. He’s a composer, he’s a decomposer, he’s reincarnated Beethoven. Hendrix is 12th.”
Me: What about Hubert Sumlin? I’ve heard you say that he was the best.
Bruce: He’s actually No. 1. Me and Oteil put him about 7th on this list. He’s the shit. He plays nd nothing happens, and it’s all ghost notes, and you’re like, ‘where in the fuck is that coming from?’ He doesn’t know any keys. We asked him, ‘who’s the best guitarist you ever heard?’ He goes, ‘my brother, but was too shamefaced to come outside.’ We asked him how he lost his teeth and he said, ‘Howlin’ Wolf kicked ’em.’ Then he said, ‘A police dog bit ’em off.‘
Bruce was cackling again. Everyone at the table was laughing. Even Sue, filling up a bottomless pot of coffee, was laughing.
Bruce: An hour later hour he’d say, ‘I was poisoned in Canada by three women.’ We took him on tour with us, the Code Talkers. He never slept. He was always in a coat and tie, 20 women all night long coming and going in his motel room, 77 years old. His sheets were never turned down. We spent eight days with him. It was like being with the pope. At the end of it he said, ‘It’s time. it’s time to go to the crossroads and get your stuff and go home.’ I’m telling you, he would play and nothing would happen. It was just insane.‘
Johnny: Who is … Hubert … what?
Bruce was on a roll and continued with his Hubert routine, pulling out phrases from what he told us was the best week of his life on the road. Sumlin was one of his longtime heroes.
Bruce: He said, ‘I didn’t use a pick, I used chicken wire, and I picked enough cotton to kill five people.’ The Rolling Stones paid for his funeral. They stole everything he did, but if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best. The Stones are Hubert Sumlin. And they’re honest about it.”
From there the conversation sort of went all over the place. Bruce dropped his phone in his grits at some point. Anyway, this is the randomness that unfolded:
Bruce: If you never have to go out there and fucking sweat, you’re never gonna appreciate a napkin. You’ve got to appreciate the little things.
Johnny: I met Johnny Mercer once, it was at a party where Cole Porter was playing.
Bruce: Synchronicity! I was with Dave Schools, years ago, and I had just met Stanley Booth the day before, and he’d just started working on something about Johnny Mercer. Anyway, Dave says, ‘I just found out that I’m Johnny Mercer’s nephew.’ A minute later, Stanley Booth calls and says, ‘do you know any of Johnny Mercer’s relatives.’ I go, ‘yeah,’ and hand Dave the phone. That is absolute insanity.
And he’s just gotten going at this point on the whole synchronicity thing …
Bruce: In our song, “Brato Ganibe,” Ricky Keller’s wife, Carol, the first word she says is, “Frahner.” Two weeks ago I hired a bassist whose name is Frahner! Frahner Joseph. Insane!
Johnny: What the hell is that? Brato what …?
Bruce: Brato Ganibe was a dream I had for three years. Its either a canoeist or universal peace. Brato means canoeist and Ganibe means universal peace on my planet. When I see it in a book somewhere I will dive through an IHOP window and crucify myself onto a Dodge with the single bullet theory.
Johnny: Ah, there he goes. He’s going into the abyss. Can I tie a rope around myself so I don’t get pulled in?
Bruce starts making goofy sounds and the tape gets garbled, but then clears up for a second and I can hear …
Bruce: The alphabet is actually 36 letters.
And that’s it. Gotta say, I really miss those guys.